This, of course, does not mean I'm giving up on my Brontës. Ultimately, their raw, straight-forward natures are closer to my own. They most definitely didn't like what they saw, and they stated as much in the bluntest of terms. In addition, there is a part of me that will always be attracted to the brooding male--even if I know better to hang out within a fifty mile radius of him. Plus, their censure of the society around them is far more open and accessible. Of course, I feel now that the reason the Brontë sisters were so direct is because they owe a debt to Jane Austen. I suspect she blazed that trail. Still, the Brontës taught me my love of language. It is with them I that I learned how to use multiple meanings of a word in order to communicate. The Brontës opened my mind and my eyes to a whole literary world. It was like experiencing a forest for myself for the first time--when before, my whole sense of the concept had been a child's crayon drawing. This is why, when intelligent people whose opinion I respect spend decades studying an author's works, I'll bang my head on the question of why until I ultimately figure it out. Partly because I know my education is sadly lacking, and partly because I do so want to understand. And now I owe a debt to Jane Austen because she's done the same thing the Brontës did for me but with world building.
For me, the story begins with a film.
Understand, I have read quite a few of Jane Austen's novels, and until this moment, I preferred films made from her work over actually reading it. In the same way that I experience Shakespeare, a lot of her humor was lost upon me until an actor gave it life. I wanted to understand. So, I kept trying in the belief that I was missing something. As it turns out, I was. A very big something connected to champion-level world building and a large dollop of unwritten history. Anyway, we'll start with a film.
One of my main issues with Austen is the obsession with Romance. I'm not a fan of Romance as a genre. I enjoy romantic sub-plots. I also like a witty, well-written Rom-Com. However, I find Romance tedious for much the same reasons that I avoid brooding men in real life--the outcome is predictable and the script is well-worn. In addition, Romance (at least the straight cis woman's variety) clashes with my inner Feminist Voice. It's All About the Penis--that is, obtaining penis access is the entire motivation for EVERYTHING. In my opinion, there's a hell of a lot more to life than that. I won't go into the toll I've seen such reading take on women because too much of it has an unrealistic perception of men--not all of it, by any means, but a lot of it. Women need to practice focusing on themselves in order to be themselves. The sexism in American culture and media makes that very difficult. American Culture is obsessed with penis worship. It's one of the reasons why it can take women so long to become whole. It's why so many women over thirty have emptied their Suitcase of Fucks to Give™. I know I have. And you know what? That lack of weight is so liberating--so much so that the word 'liberation' is a shadow of what it feels like.
But that's the thing. Jane Austen wasn't writing about Romance. She was writing about survival.
I, like most modern readers, approached Austen with my modern sensibilities lurking in the back of my brain. We have Consumer Protection Laws. We have Financial Regulations and Labor Regulations. Child Labor Laws too. We have Social Security. We have healthcare. Women have basic human rights. We can vote, get a job, and own property. The idea of making our own living is integral to who we are--so much so, that it's not even really a thought. If you're married and your husband loses his job? Rough situation, yes. But hey, chances are, you've still got yours. Thus, women (and men) can afford to marry whomever they love. Best of all, they can even afford not to marry. Yes, marriage isn't a requirement for life.
Now, imagine a world without any of these things. I have to say I'm thankful for Libertarians and the current crop of Republicans in that they've definitely given us all a view of what that world really was like: nasty, brutish, and short. That is, unless you're rich, and by rich, I mean making far more than a couple of million dollars a year. I'll paint it for you. Orphans died in the street, and so did single women, and any man not making more than enough money to withstand the frequent--seriously frequent--fluctuations of the nation's "sharing" economy. Sometimes, even wealthy men lost everything and ended up starving to death. There was no insurance. Once your shit was gone, it was gone. The end. There was no recovering it. You couldn't even effectively save against that rainy day. Banks weren't safe places. If they made bad investments and went down, so did you. There were zero guarantees of anything. None. A disease, a war, even a freaking storm happening miles and miles away could end it all. You had no control. Zip.
I'm going to quote the movie now. "Affection is desirable. Money is absolutely indispensable!" When I read Pride and Prejudice and I saw Elizabeth's mother spew a similar sentiment, I rolled my eyes. She's prostituting her daughter, for fuck's sake. And Elizabeth has every right to view her own mother harshly for doing so. Jane Austen certainly doesn't portray her with sympathy, not on the surface. And hey, I knew with my mind that marriage for women was the only option at the time. With my mind. It is not until I saw Becoming Jane that I felt it in my gut. I also didn't know it was the only option for men too.
Spoiler Alert: You're not going to understand where I ended up unless I spoil the movie. I don't like spoiling movies, books, or TV shows, no matter how long they've been available. I firmly believe that everyone has a right to their experience. So, if you've not seen the film and you know nothing of Jane Austen's life (assuming that they didn't Hollywood the shit out of it--and I know that's quite the assumption) feel free to skip this part. But, in truth, my essay won't hit home without this bit. So, here goes. In the film, Jane falls in love with a penniless law student from Limerick, Ireland who is being mentored by his uncle, a wealthy judge. Long story short, they can't get the uncle's approval. Therefore, they elope. Mid-elopement, Jane discovers that Tom, her intended, has family in Ireland--family who are dependent upon the allowance that Tom's uncle provides. That's when she starts asking questions. "How many brothers and sisters do you have in Limerick, Tom?" And that's when her curiousity begins to take on the rhythm of a death knell. She's not merely getting to know Tom. She's asking him, How many people will die if you and I marry? He doesn't want to answer her, of course. He's knowingly made his decision without consulting her, but now she knows. She knows what happiness actually costs in her world. Neither of them are free to gamble their futures. Tom's livelihood wasn't merely supporting gambling and whoring. He was feeding his parents and his brothers and sisters--which, since there was no birth control or abortion meant that there were anywhere from six to twenty` human beings dependent upon him. Jane decides the cost is too much. She returns home. She never marries, deciding that she can't live with herself if she prostitutes herself via marriage. She also knows that more than likely that if she did marry, she wouldn't live to write. She'd die in childbirth. No healthcare, remember? Childbirth is very dangerous. Ask any gynecologist or obstetrician. It was, in Jane's day, the number one killer of women--next to fire.
This, all of this, demonstrates why Feminism is so vital for men as well as women. Every one of these factors is interconnected. Post-apocalyptic fiction would have you believe that women cannot survive on their own because they're too physically weak to do so. And the Patriarchy wants us to believe that patriarchy is basic to human nature--that humanity stripped free from modern niceties, luxuries, and conveniences always results in all the cis white men on top. The truth is, Feminism is essential to humanity's survival. Jane Austen demonstrates that even cis mens' well-being is, in fact, wrapped up in women's well being. All of us, all genders (and there are more than two) depend upon all the things that Feminism and enlightened civilization bring us--birth control, all genders' contributions to science, the arts, technology, and medicine. Patriarchy doesn't want you to know that, previous to Feminism, you (as a cis white male) would likely have been saddled with the responsibility of a family at the ripe old age of ten or even younger--whenever you were able to get work. (No child labor laws, y'all.) This would've been entirely dependent upon the circumstances of the family into which you were born, the economic fluctuations of the day, or even the fucking weather. There would be no pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. You probably wouldn't have boots, let alone straps with which to pull them up. In addition, the economy largely depended upon the subjugation of one minority group or another. <sarcasm font>Slavery is great for business, y'all.</sarcasm font>
For this reason, all my friends who love Jane Austen and didn't understand why I didn't...well...you can now say I told you so. Austen is important and deserves to be included among the greats of literature.
 Even if Jane Austen's sharp tongue is a [far more glorious] sister to my own sometimes. I really do need to watch myself. People get hurt.
 Never become romantically involved with anyone who lives their life like a Shakespearian play. The lines are well-rehearsed, the actresses are replaced with each new production, and the plot--and therefore, the outcome, is inevitably the same.
 Now you see why I need to watch myself, don't you? I really do believe that kindness and optimism is ultimately the best response, but holy crap, do I have a dark side.
 Unlike H.P. Lovecraft. I don't give a rat's backside about Lovecraft. I enjoy the hell out of stories set in his world by other authors--Charles Stross's Laundry novels, for instance, but Lovecraft himself? Fuck that guy. His prose sucks, and he was a raging, toxic asshole.
 Hey, if Romance is your thing, it's cool. I get the concept of "comfort reading." I do. I have re-read Terry Pratchett's Discworld so often I have bits memorized. There's nothing wrong with Romance in and of itself. It's just not my kind of comfort read. No biggie.
 This is not to say that Romance hasn't contributed importantly to literature. It has. One of Romance's great strengths is character development. When done well. And for the record, every genre has its schlock. Every genre. No exceptions.
 For now.
 In America, this is still limited to those who can pay for it. The poor are sentenced to death for the crime of being poor. And, at increasing rates, so are the middle class.
 Read The Little Matchgirl by Hans Christian Anderson. It's not such a sweet Christmas story now, is it?
 Seriously. Look up debtor's prison. After that fun bit of reading, now give some thought to our current prison industrial complex. Also? Check out this bit of terrifying news.
 Big floofy skirts + open fires in the kitchen, bedroom, drawing room = setting yourself on fire if you are not very careful. A passage in Alcott's Little Women refers to this danger.
is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author living in Texas.